Rambunctious “Comedy of Errors”

By Alidor Aucoin on March 25, 2010

Centaur Director Peter Hinton’s totally off-the-wall staging of William Shakespeare’s  The Comedy of Errors  is a rambunctious, gender crossing romp. The pl ay is a  ridiculously complicated  two hour series of fast-paced,  mad cap routines rooted  in the mistaken identities  of two sets of  identical twins who were separated at birth,  Antipholus of Syracuse (Marcel Jeannin) and  Antipholus of Ephesus,  (Andreas Apergis)  and their twin servants, both named Dromio. 

 In this radical interpretation of the two  rival Greek  cities Montreal doubles as  Ephesus;  Toronto  represents  Syracuse. It’s an inspired  concept, but the follow through, while always  entertaining,  is  somewhat erratic.   There’s a  sepulchral  tone at the start as  Aegeon,  (Albert Millaire) in search of his lost son,  is arrested  for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sentenced to death, then reprieved, by a Jean-Drapeau  inspired  duke (Paul Rainville), Millaire sets the stage for what’s to come; his “griefs unspeakable” speech is a long exposition and he makes the most of it.  Things pick up when Antipholus of  Sycracuse takes Via Rail to Ephesus,  unaware that his twin brother lives there.

Hinton’s  vision  reveals a more wildly imaginative  talent  at work than always  good  judgment. On the plus side,  it is always entertaining,  yet    sometimes it  veers off into some surreal  moments  that seem too clever by half,  including  a Star Wars costume party at Café Cléopatre,  a drag number by the courtesan, (Stephen Lawson)  and a  video projection that  becomes part of the language of the production.   Antipholus  of Syracuse has the bigger role, and Jeannin plunges into it with gusto, while  Aspergis  kicks up a  storm of indignation whenever its required.

Debra Kirshenbaum and Danielle Desormeaux  steal  the show as the “two sweet faced”  Dromio brothers.  especially in the scene where the two  “find out countries” in the “spherical ” and globe like anatomy of a maid. (Ireland in the buttocks, France in the Forehead, England the chin, “and where the Netherlands? Oh sir, I did not look so low!”) Danette MacKay, as the devoted wife, Adriana of Ephesus, and Leni Parker as her sister, Luciana,  fit splendidly into their roles. Clare Coulter commands the stage as the formidable   abbess at Ephesus, whose revelations at the end tie up all the loose ends.  Braulio Elicier and Adrienne Mei Irving  take on several characters and  demonstrate  that when actors know what they are doing, there are no bit  parts in Shakespeare.  Eo Sharp’s sleek set of fast sliding, shape-shifting aluminum panels  is nothing short of brilliant; like the production itself the set is clever, cheeky and wildly entertaining.

DICHTERLIEBE, DACHAU AND DEPTHS OF SELF-DISCOVERY

Old Wicked Songs, running at the Segal Centre  is an achingly beautiful, deeply satisfying, two-hander that uses the power of music to bridge the generation gap. 

John Marans  play, set in Vienna  in 1968 during former Nazi Kurt Waldheim’s rise to power as chancellor of Austria,  centres on the clash of ideas between a suicidal old Viennese vocal coach and Holocaust survivor, Josef Maskan (Jean Marchand) and his brash,  young American student, Stephen Hoffman, (Émile Proulx-Cloutier). 

The music, which is integral to the drama, is Robert Schumann’s adaptation of Heinrich Heine’s love poems, Dichterliebe, in which the lyrics often are at odds with the melody. It serves as ironic counterpoint to the dialogue  in which student and professor express  contradictory views of their common Jewish heritage.   This remarkable production, directed by Martin Faucher,  is noteworthy on a number of levels:    it represents  a happy collaboration between the Théatre du Nouveau Monde and the Segal - the two excellent actors on stage  did it in French before they opened in English;   the music you hear isn’t canned:  both men  are  professional musicians who perform live, something that the playwright notes “rarely occurs in productions of Old Wicked Songs; Jean Marchand was Emile’s piano coach for the show, and the two of them began work on the music long before rehearsals began.”

In the play,  Hoffman was a child prodigy, technically proficient as a pianist, but now suffering from performance anxiety.  He “wants to feel something for once,” so he travels to Vienna to  kick start his career as an accompanist for classical singers. There he discovers himself working with Maskan, who is from another world altogether.   It is soon obvious that neither  fits so neatly into their preconceived notions of each other.  As the professor, Marchand owns the stage, he delivers a pitch perfect performance; Proulx-Cloutier, (who by the way makes his English-language debut) is admirably jaded, but there are times he is more earnest than arrogant.

Raymond Maurice Boucher has designed an appropriately suffocating music studio that comes to life when the heavy drapes are opened, and Marc Parent has evocatively lit the room.

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